For Latinas, a Guide to Success at Work

For Latinas, a Guide to Success at Work

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Editor’s Note: Rose Castillo Guilbault, author of the memoir, “Farmworker’s Daughter: Growing Up Mexican in America,” has just released a new work with co-author Louis E.V. Nevaer, entitled “The Latina's Guide to Success in the Workplace.” Guilbault spoke to New America Media about the new book, and her own experience growing up as an immigrant in the U.S.

Why focus on Latinas in the workplace?

I’ve been in the business world for a long time, and I always felt that I had no one to talk to or seek advice from. So I kind of conceived it as a book of mentoring. If Latinas come and talk to me with various work-related, career-related questions, these would be the [types of] things that I would tell them.

What was your own experience in the workplace?

I went to college -- which was a big step to begin with -- and majored in journalism. Broadcasting was a field where they were welcoming women and minorities, because of affirmative action in the 1970s.

There just wasn’t anybody at that time that could mentor me. The few of us that were in broadcasting… were all at the same level. We weren’t getting the kind of advice that we probably needed. So often I found myself as the only woman, the only Latina in meetings and boardrooms. It was lonely.

And then when I moved from broadcasting into the corporate world, it was a whole other thing. I was always looking for other women that could help you figure things out. [But] there wasn’t a lot of help along the way -- you have to make your own way.

I’d just thought that writing about what I have seen and what I have experienced -- sort of the “rules of engagement” in companies -- would be good advice for young Latinas who are thinking about what the workplace is like.

What are some of the barriers faced by Latinas in the workplace today?

Our (Latin) culture is countercultural to the American workplace. For instance, we tend to be more of a “we” society, and Americans are more the “me” society, the “I” society -- the individual, as opposed to the collectivism of society, the family. Where we say, “If God wants it, it will happen,” the American would say, “God helps those who help themselves.”

The number of Latina women that are in any kind of leadership role is very tiny -- those who get passed the cultural barriers, that get an education, that have an understanding of [how to get] into a job. Then they have to contend with a whole other set of standards, things like understanding that every business has a different culture.

Studies show that Latinas are enrolling in universities at the same rate as white women, but they are more likely to drop out. What is going on there?

The family comes with cultural baggage from the old country – a belief that woman are going to get married anyway, so why spend the money on education?

I have some stories in the book that talk about women that were held back [while] their parents paid for their brothers to go to school. The former U.S. treasurer, Rosario Marin, came to this country when she was 15 years old, and she had to learn English. When she graduated from high school the parents decided they were going to pay for her brother’s education and not hers. So she took a day job, and it took her 7 years [to finish college] because she had to work during the day and go to school at night.

For others, the father decides that they don’t want them to go away to college. There are women I know that got scholarships to Ivy League [universities] and the parents didn’t quite understand and said, “You can’t be alone in a far away state.”

It’s kind of a tough thing to do if you don’t get support from your own family financially, to figure out how to put together scholarships. That’s when the dropouts happen. They don’t get the right support, the right mentorship during school.

The most successful women that I interviewed, they all said the same thing: You have to have somebody in your family who believes in you -- one person, whether it is your abuela (grandmother), your brother, your uncle, or a teacher.

What needs to change if professional opportunities for Latinas are to improve?

Right now the U.S. is becoming a Latino nation. By 2050 Hispanics are going to be 25 percent of the workplace. That means the U.S. needs to be serious about educating and promoting and hiring Hispanics and training them, because this is the workforce. Let’s not play games about who is legal or who is illegal and all that nonsense. This is serious stuff. This is the workforce that is going to take care of baby boomers.

I think there’s a role for businesses to play in making a commitment to educating Latinos and Latinas and making sure that the dropout rate changes, beginning with pre-school and the programs that exist, expanding those programs and making sure that the educational levels are trending up. That is something that the U.S. has to be serious about, because otherwise they are not going to be successful in the global economy.

In our own culture, families, especially fathers, have to really understand that everybody has to be educated. It’s really not a choice. If you don’t educate your daughter, they’re going to not succeed in this country. You’re actually dooming your future family members.

Your previous book, “Farmworker’s Daughter,” focuses on your experiences as an immigrant growing up in the U.S. in the 1960s. Are things different now for the children of farmworkers?

I went back to my hometown to do some talks in the local schools after the [new] book came out. My hometown in the Salinas Valley has become predominantly Latino and it also has been proliferated with gangs. One of the children in the classroom asked me, “So how did you deal with the gangs growing up?” I said there were no gangs. There are new threats now that I didn’t have to encounter. My issues were more about learning the language and overcoming stereotypes, finding ways to go to college. That seems to be a new element that the kids are dealing with now.

What are some of the common myths about Latinas in the workplace?

Latinas lack initiative. Latinas are often late -- this thing about “Latino time.” They’re clock-watchers. They’re not demanding in their work. They don’t look professional. Latinas only socialize with themselves. They’re not serious. Latinas just talk Spanish to each other.

Those are the myths. They are prejudices.

What do you hope readers will take away from the book?

The takeaway is that you can succeed. This isn’t a closed door to you. You have to put in your own energy and strength, but it is possible.

It’s really about having the confidence, the understanding, that there are people out there that want you to succeed. They want you to do well. You have to pay your dues and reach out, and not be afraid to ask for help, too.

Rose Castillo Guilbault was born in Sonora, Mexico, and grew up in the Salinas Valley of California. She was a columnist for Pacific News Service and the San Francisco Chronicle, was editorial director for KGO-TV (ABC San Francisco) and creator of the television series “Profiles of Excellence.” She is currently vice president of corporate affairs at AAA of Northern California, Nevada, and Utah. She is speaking on Monday, June 17 at the Commonwealth Club in San Francisco.